Walter Mischel, Ph.D.

Research Interests

Longitudinal Studies
One of our long-term longitudinal studies examines the ways in which the ability to delay gratification, assessed in our laboratory situations in early childhood, predicts a variety of consequential developmental outcomes in the life course and serves as a protective factor against chronic vulnerabilities such as rejection sensitivity. This cohort began as preschoolers studied at the Bing Nursery School at Stanford University in the late 1960s and early 1970s, and we have been in contact with them ever since, tracing their development. Most recently, we began a home study with these individuals, focusing on their children who now are preschool age, to examine cross-generational links at both behavioral and biological levels, in collaboration with Ozlem Ayduk's laboratory at the University of California, Berkeley (Ayduk et al., 2000; Sethi et al., 2000). The other project began in the early 1980s at the Barnard Toddler Center in work with Lawrence Aber when these toddlers were studied in the classic maternal separation paradigm, and subsequently at age 4 years in the delay of gratification situation. Currently we are re-assessing them in young adulthood in studies that include cognitive, social, and, ultimately, fMRI measurement (Eigsti et al., 2005).

Self/Emotion Regulation
In related collaborative work we are exploring the psychological, physiological, brain, and genetic mechanisms that underlie adaptive self-control and emotion regulation under "hot" emotion-arousing conditions. We use a host of paradigms (e.g. longitudinal, diary, lab-based experimental, correlational) and methods (e.g. self-report, narratives, implicit, autonomic, fMRI) to address these questions (e.g., Kross et al., 2005), freely crossing disciplinary boundaries in areas that span personality, social, cognition, developmental, and cognitive neuroscience, with continuing support by NIMH Merit Awards (1989-2009).

Personality Processes and Dynamics
A closely related line of inquiry, in conjunction with Yuichi Shoda and his lab at the University of Washington, is exploring the structure, consistency, and stability of personality, guided by the Conitive-Affective Processing Model of personality (Mischel & Shoda, 1995; Mischel, 2004). This research is currently developing methods to identify the predictable situation-specific contingencies (e.g., she does X when A but Y when B) that constitute peoples distinctive, stable if...then..., situation-behavior signatures.  It also identifies sub-types of individuals with similarities in these behavioral signatures and in the cognitive-affective processing dynamics that generate them.

Selected Publications: